U.S. troops shouldn’t have to battle to exercise their right to vote

From the diaries by Erick

Every day, members of America’s military leave family and home to stand on the front lines to defend our freedom. To their surprise, these heroes must fight another battle: attempting to vote.

Each passing election highlights the difficulties for military personnel to cast ballots. Numerous obstacles prevent them from registering to vote, casting absentee ballots or voting at anywhere near the rate as their civilian counterparts.

Troops navigate a minefield of complexity, mail delays, indifference and errors, dampening their democratic voice and perhaps their democratic spirit.

The scope of this problem shocks the conscience. Texas boasts 16 percent of America’s active military personnel, or 272,000. In 2006, more than 484,000 U.S. military personnel (99,000 Texans) requested absentee ballots but did not return them.

That’s equivalent to almost a third of all active duty military personnel. Overall, only 26 percent of military personnel successfully cast their absentee ballots in 2006, compared with 85 percent of the general population who used the absentee option.

Unfortunately, Texas’ election laws reinforce this problem. In fact, a recent Pew Research Study ranked Texas among the 17 worst states in helping military personnel cast their vote. How can we rest as our voting system fails to serve ballots to those who unfailingly serve us in battle?

Texas can remove the obstacles impeding its military personnel and their families from voting. A bipartisan effort led by Republican Rep. Frank Corte and Democrat Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is working its way through the Texas Legislature.

The bills, HB 71 and SB 92, would remove many of the voting hurdles facing Texans in the military. By adopting some simple technological measures, troops can get ballots in time to actually cast them.

Texas pilot-tested these measures in the 2008 election, and the initial feedback was positive. We should expand these innovations statewide and set an example for the rest of the country to follow.

Regardless of one’s political persuasion, democracy depends on full, robust and unencumbered participation by its citizens — and especially from those who defend our freedom. As the Texas Legislature enters its final weeks, it is important that it enact legislation to restore patriotic Texans’ voting voice.

Online To read HB 71, sponsored by Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, or SB 92, authored by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, go to Texas Legislature Online at www.capitol.state.tx.us